Sunday, April 14, 2024  |



The Ring’s Guide to New Jersey Boxing Gyms

Aces Boxing Club prior to an amateur show in 2022. Photo by Hector Almodovar
Fighters Network

From Mahwah to Millville, the buzz is palpable in boxing gyms across the Garden State. It’s Golden Gloves season in New Jersey, which means boxers are stepping up their training in hopes of becoming immortalized as a champion. The tournament runs from March 10 to April 15, and will give over 200 boxers the chance to shine on what may be their first stages.

Whether you’re looking to lose some weight, learn self defense or want to become a competitive boxer, there’s no better time than now to join a boxing gym.

The Garden State more than holds its own on the national stage as a boxing state. There are the historical greats like Jersey Joe Walcott and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and, more recently, world champions like Shakur Stevenson who have risen up through the local amateur scene to international fame.

After a lull during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Jersey amateur boxing scene is once again thriving, with a show almost every other week, while the pro game heats up with smaller shows in Atlantic City and a few local promoters doing semi-regular events in North Jersey.

There are more ways to support your local boxing scene than by just signing up for a gym membership. You can buy a ticket to a pro fight, preferably from a local boxer who relies on sales to finance his career, or you can attend an amateur show, which often serves as a fundraiser for a local boxing program. If you have boxing experience, you can even volunteer your time after work at a community boxing gym to share your knowledge with someone who could use it.

There are many great gyms in the state, but here is a look at a few of those that stand out. Who knows? You might end up training alongside the next champion, or even becoming the gym’s next great fighter.

Aces Boxing Club

718 Main Street, Boonton, N.J.

Hours: M-Sat. 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Chances are that, if you semi-regularly attend amateur boxing events in New Jersey, you’ve been to Aces Boxing Club at least once. The Morris-county based gym runs an amateur show almost every month, providing their fighters – and other amateurs around the region – with plenty of opportunities to progress their career.

Aside from being the busiest local amateur promoter, Aces Boxing Club is mass producing fighters using a formula that breaks away from the traditional class format. “We’re a structured training facility. We don’t run classes,” said Aces Boxing Club head trainer and owner Joe Zabry.

“We’ve got set controlled sparring days, we’ve got set strength and conditioning days, we’ve got set skill days and we have set regular offensive punch conditioning days on the punching bag, speed bag and mitts.”

The gym is home to professionals like Nicky Vitone (9-1-1, 7 knockouts) and Steve Moore (7-8, 5 KOs), who routinely lend their experience to the young amateurs. Among their other success stories is Ethan Fitzpatrick, an open class super heavyweight who dropped 150 pounds and won the 2022 Golden Gloves subnovice title.

The gym had jumped around different towns, and was washed out by Hurricane Irene at its previous location in Fairfield, N.J. before reopening at their current location on the second floor in 2012.

Gleason’s Gym Jersey Shore

10 Pearl Street 2nd floor, Long Branch, N.J.

Hours: Varied

Ever wanted to get in a boxing workout and hit the beach in the same day? That’s possible if you train at Gleason’s Gym Jersey Shore, which is located just a mile from the water in Long Branch, N.J. The gym is located in an old warehouse and stretches across a massive 5,000 square feet area, which gives owner and head trainer Jackie Atkins plenty of space to train large groups. But these aren’t your typical fitness classes.

“There are some gyms where fitness boxing takes on a whole different look, but we train everyone as though they’re gonna fight. I don’t care if they never go in that ring, we’re gonna teach them the technique,” said Atkins, who has served as the president of the New Jersey Association of USA Boxing since 2017.

Jackie Atkins shadowboxing at Gleason’s Gym Jersey Shore. Photo by Proof of Life Pictures

Atkins, a former women’s National Golden Gloves champion who started coaching while volunteering at a local PAL gym, has kept boxing alive on the Jersey Shore, working alongside trainers like Gary Cummings, Kevin Russell and Rahn Carter to mold the next generation of boxers. The gym doesn’t turn away any child who wants to box, with Atkins’ nonprofit organization New Jersey Give a Kid a Dream sponsoring memberships for children whose families can’t afford to pay. Local agencies, plus alternative schools and addiction centers, often refer young people to Gleason’s Jersey Shore as a means to set them on the right path in life and boost their confidence and discipline.

Atkins has the experience and knowledge (she’s an IBA Star 1 accredited coach) to command respect from any audience, but she says that being a female trainer helps make the sport more accessible to others who walk through her gym’s doors.

“I think it’s very important. Imagine walking into a place and there aren’t any female coaches. And not only aren’t there any female coaches, but there aren’t other women there to train with,” said Atkins.

“You need to prepare female boxers for battle in the same way that you prepare your male boxers.”

Park Elite Boxing Academy

110 Chestnut Street, Roselle Park, N.J.

Hours: M-F 3 to 9 p.m.

Opening a boxing gym just before the COVID-19 pandemic is the equivalent of getting knocked down three times in the opening round, but Park Elite Boxing Academy has staged an Archie Moore vs. Yvon Durelle-like comeback. The Union County-based gym opened in late 2019 but didn’t get to compete for over a year, but were able to make their grand arrival at the 2021 Diamond Gloves when they brought home a pair of championships.

Owner/trainer Percy Gayanilo, who himself boxed as an amateur in New York and New Jersey tournaments, modeled his program after Church Street Boxing Gym, where he trained for many years under the tutelage of Rafael Correa, who had previously run the iconic Times Square Boxing Gym with Jimmy Glenn.

Park Elite Boxing Academy in Roselle Park, N.J. Photo by Ryan Songalia

Gayanilo brought with him two of the professionals who worked at Church Street, 80-fight veteran Joseph “Pop” Figueroa and former title challenger Jaffa Ballogou, who share their wealth of knowledge with their students.

“At my gym, the beginners and the best fighters are gonna get the same attention. One day Jaffa will work with you, then the next day I might work with you. Then the next day Pop might work with you. So you’re gonna learn from everybody,” said Gayanilo.

Among the pro fighters at the gym are bantamweight prospect Jose Nieves and junior flyweight contender Angelino Cordova, with national team boxer Jamar Talley also training there when he isn’t at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.

True Warriors Boxing Club

85 5th Avenue, Paterson, N.J.

Hours: M-F 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

When Paterson boxing legend Joe Grier was considering retiring from training, one of his pupils, Jose Concepcion, knew it would be devastating for the community if the gym closed its doors. That’s when Concepcion and his wife Ramona decided to take over the space. They knew that far more than championships were at stake.

“There’s been so much crime with these kids getting hurt and killed, so we like to keep a safe place for them,” said Ramona Concepcion. “If he closed the gym, everybody would be in the streets so I decided to keep it open,” added Jose Concepcion, who used to spar with Hector Camacho Sr. and Arturo Gatti at the Lou Costello Boxing Club in Paterson.

An amateur boxing fight about to start at True Warriors Boxing Club. Photo by Hector Almodovar

The Concepcions took over the 3,000 square foot location in May of 2015 and have morphed it into a place for kids as young as eight years old all the way up to masters boxers, aged 40 and up, to learn the sport.

Among the professionals there are Julian Rodriguez, Dwyke Flemmings Jr. and Chinese heavyweight contender Zhang Zhilei, with former pros like Freddie Cadena, Freddie Curiel and David Toledo dropping in to train their boxers as well.

While the gym gets plenty of accolades for the accomplishments of its amateur and professional boxers, Ramona Concepcion says some of their best feedback comes from the parents of the boxers.

“We get appreciation from the mothers. They compliment our gym and say that their kids are doing much better in school,” said Concepcion.

The gym hosts Golden Gloves shows, and is one of two places in the state, including Gleason’s Jersey Shore, where you can get your USA Boxing amateur license book.

Because you can never have too many boxing gyms…

Ike and Randy’s Boxing Gym, Paterson, N.J..: a long-time staple of boxing community best known for producing former WBO junior welterweight titleholder Kendall Holt. Respected ring veteran Ossie Duran is now head trainer of rebuilding amateur program.

Ringside Boxing Gym, Jersey City, N.J.: Head trainer Guillermo “Lucky” Sanabria runs a tight ship at the gym where Mike Tyson and Arturo Gatti used to work out at when they were in town. Pros Juan Rodriguez Jr., Nicoy Clarke and Yeifer Valencia get in their work at this old school haven of boxing.

Old Dog Boxing Club, Ringoes, N.J.: One of the most unique boxing gyms you’ll ever see, this former mini golf course and driving range has five rings, including one outside on what used to be the putting green. Former lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez holds his training camps here.

Ever seen a boxing ring on a putting green? You have now! Photo by Ryan Songalia

TKO Fitness, Cherry Hill, N.J.: Owned by ex-pro and promoter Alex Barbosa, a number of professionals train at this 5,000 square foot mega gym, including former IBF junior lightweight titleholder Tevin Farmer and bantamweight prospect Emmanuel “Salserito” Rodriguez. The gym also hosts amateur shows.

Bayonne Recreation Gym, Bayonne, N.J.: Only gym where you have a reasonable chance of running into entertainer Beetlejuice, who is managed by former pro boxer and Bayonne Recreation trainer Bobby Rooney. Rising prospect Robert Terry works out there, as does amateur prospect Justin Penaranda.

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].